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Welcome to another Mindfuck Monday email, the only weekly newsletter that promises to hang out on Friday and then ghosts you until Monday… always Monday… Each week, I discuss three topics that make you slightly less of an awful person. This week, we’re covering: 1) the subtle art of forgiveness and its benefits; 2) coronavirus—why won’t anybody shut up about it; and 3) developing a comfort for living in uncertainty.
1. The subtle art of forgiveness – A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article about dealing with regret. Originally, I planned to have a section on forgiveness, since that’s kind of how you get over your regrets—you forgive yourself for whatever dumb fucking thing you did.
But as that section grew and expanded, I started to realize that forgiveness is a much bigger topic than simply not beating yourself up for something. I was soon sucked down a rabbit hole of forgiveness theorizing and research. I discovered that the ability to forgive (and let’s be clear, it is a skill) is correlated with all sorts of great things, like better relationships, less anxiety and depression, greater security and confidence, and being marginally less of an asshole.
Forgiveness is a hard one for a lot of people. So I took that section, pulled it out of the regret article, and gave it the full-blown Mark Manson treatment it deserved. Check it out.
2. Should we be worried about coronavirus? – It’s been impossible to go anywhere on the internet in the past few weeks without hearing about coronavirus. I have to admit, given how many media freakouts there have been over the years over “epidemics” that were actually quite pretty isolated (ebola, zika, etc.), I really didn’t take it that seriously at first.
But it’s lingered. And continues to spread. And enough readers emailed me last week asking me about it that I decided to take an afternoon and do some research on it.
Here’s the bad news: Coronavirus appears to be one of the most contagious things… like, ever. During the worst flu epidemics, for each person who gets the flu they spread it to 1.5 other people on average. The most recent worst one was the H1N1 “Swine flu” in 2009 infected 10-20% of the entire planet.
Apparently, coronavirus is almost three times more contagious than swine flu. For every person who catches it, so far, they transmit it to almost four other people on average! That’s fucking scary. And even more worrying, whereas the flu only kills roughly 0.10 percent of the people it infects, coronavirus kills somewhere around 2-3%. So, just on paper, coronavirus should have us freaking out. Three times more contagious, 20 times more dangerous than your worst flu strains.
Okay, calm down. Here’s the good news… It’s really hard to know how meaningful these numbers are right now. No offense to my Chinese readers, but the virus has emerged in one of the dirtiest and most densely populated places on earth. Wuhan is a metro of over 20 million people. When you see 70k have contracted coronavirus, that sounds like a big number. But if Wuhan was a town of 1000 people, that’s the equivalent of only three individuals being infected. Three out of 1000, at ground zero, no less, isn’t nearly as scary.
When you look at the coronavirus numbers in proportion to the massive Chinese population AND understand that they are below average in terms of sanitation and medical care, then these numbers are probably skewed high simply because of where they originate.
And, in fact, we’re seeing that in highly developed places such as Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, the rates of infection and death are far, far lower than in China—more on par with your typical flu.
Also, it must be mentioned that the Chinese government tried to cover up the virus rather than treat it and learn about it, so there were many unnecessary transmissions and deaths due to that. But now that everyone is mobilized and on the level, we should see better containment and treatment.
The final piece of relatively good news is that, like influenza, the vast majority of deaths related to the virus are people over the age of 65. For young and healthy people, it is almost never fatal.
So what’s going to happen? I have no fucking clue. Nobody does. There is a small chance this thing could be cataclysmic—a global pandemic that hasn’t been seen in 100 years. But if I had to put money on it, I’d say we’re looking at something similar to the H1N1 flu in 2009. It will make its way around the world, but just try to stay healthy and hygienic and things should be fine.
3. Finding comfort in uncertainty – Well, now that I’m censored in China, let’s talk about a fundamental concept of eastern philosophy: comfort with uncertainty.
Things like the coronavirus cause a lot of anxiety because there’s a wide range of potential outcomes. It could be a huge nothing burger like all the other epidemic scares the past few decades, or it could be this massive tragic global event. Who knows?
When most of us sit with that “not knowing” feeling, we become anxious and our mind acts out in search of answers. We convince ourselves that maybe if we understand the numbers or wear a mask or move to the middle of Alaska, we’ll be fine. But that “not knowing” feeling always remains, just below the surface, simmering and threatening to boil over into full-blown panic.
A huge part of Buddhist practice is to develop the ability to sit in that range of “not knowing” and learn to get comfortable there. You don’t have to know what is going to happen to feel comfortable with what’s going to happen. In fact, it’s often the desire for certainty that causes us to suffer more than the uncertainty itself.
So, this week, find something in your life that you are uncertain about and causes you anxiety, and simply practice sitting with that discomfort for a few minutes each day. Don’t hypothesize. Don’t plan. Don’t take any action. Just feel that bubbly feeling in your stomach and… watch it bubble. Ideally, the more you do this, the less it will bother you and the more free you will feel from the outer world.
Don’t look away from it. Don’t avoid it. Know fully that something totally bad could happen… and then be okay with it.
And when someone sneezes on your sandwich next month, giving you the coronavirus, you’ll be perfectly positioned to forgive them.
Until next week,